Engineering Firm Goes For The Green

March 24, 2008
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MILFORD — Williams & Works, a Grand Rapids-based civil engineering firm, is involved with a unique project being built in Rochester. The company is doing the engineering work for one of the few ecology-friendly and sustainable restaurants in the state.

Mind, Body and Spirits is going into a historic building in downtown Rochester with plans to open for business this summer. The Pleszure Food Group Co. is renovating the two-story structure that will give the restaurant 5,600 square feet of indoor green space and offer seating for 130 diners over its two floors.

Pleszure Food Group Principal Mike Plesz, who opened the Royal Oak Brewery in 1995 and the Rochester Mills Beer Co. in 1998, plans to use the most recent geothermal and solar technology to heat and cool the new eatery. He also said the construction process will use sustainable materials such as bamboo flooring and VOC-free paints. The restaurant will have an extensive recycling program and an on-site greenhouse, and its roof will be green.

“It’s an unusual project. There isn’t a lot of this out there right now,” said Steve Kinder, a senior project manager with Williams & Works and a LEED-accredited engineer, from the company’s Milford office.

“As for a green restaurant, my research has shown that is very unusual. There have been a few on the East Coast and West Coast, but I think this will be the first one in Michigan. It’s creating quite a stir. There has been some positive press about this, and it could open the door for a lot more of this kind of prototype, I think,” he added.

Green Well Gastro pub on Cherry Street SE in Grand Rapids anticipates is LEED certificate this stpring. The green restaurant opened last year. It, too, is a sustainable business using locally grown produce.

Plesz recently told the Detroit Free Press that Mind, Body and Spirits is based on two concepts. One is being an “eco-conscious business.” The other is to serve organic food grown by Michigan producers and wines made at state wineries.

“We’re trying to create a restaurant that doesn’t have a carbon footprint. We might not achieve it in the first year, but the goal is to use solar and geothermal energy instead of outside energy sources. We’re also building a greenhouse on to the restaurant, which means that we can reduce emissions by growing our own food,” he said.

“And we’re helping the economy because when we buy local products we’re helping a local family instead of spending money in California, where a lot of organic products come from.”

Kinder said Williams & Works is responsible for all the outdoor engineering aspects for the project, like conducting the construction survey and preparing the site plan.

“In this case, it’s an existing building on a downtown small lot and they’re adding on, so there wasn’t a lot of involvement with parking lots, storm sewers and all those things that we would normally do. But still the project needs a civil engineer to do the survey and submit the site plan to the municipality for approval,” he said.

Working on a green project, though, does require Kinder to make some minor changes to the normal survey and site plan work he does, such as including the geothermal and solar sources that will be used for energy. Because the urban site is small, however, typical eco-friendly items like porous pavements and bioswales weren’t needed for the project.

Kinder said the Pleszure Food Group may not seek LEED certification for the eatery, but was committed to using all the current sustainable-business designs available in the daily operations of the restaurant. He said that list includes a state-of-the-art composter that will significantly reduce the amount of trash coming from the restaurant.

“Restaurants are typically energy hogs and generate a lot of waste. They are doing things to try to reduce that,” said Kinder.

Kinder said Williams & Works is hoping to get the engineering contract for a series of green gas stations, which would be a first for the state. Not only would the buildings be eco-friendly, but the station’s products would include bio-fuels and charging stations.

The idea of having green restaurants and filling stations shows how far the sustainable-business concept and the push toward being eco-conscious have advanced in just the past few years in Michigan.

“The 2000 to 2006 numbers showed there was $12 billion in green construction, and it’s been jumping up in large numbers ever since. A lot of cities, including Grand Rapids, have signed agreements that any building over 10,000 square feet should be LEED certified,” said Kinder of statewide work.

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